LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón, whose own deputies sued him for permission to charge repeat offenders to the fullest extent of the law, has pulled out all the stops in his California Supreme Court appeal against them, retaining one of the nation’s top lawyers.
Neal K. Katyal, a former Acting U.S. Solicitor General who represented Al Gore in the 2000 election dispute and has appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court dozens of times, is also reportedly one of the country’s highest-paid attorneys.
Reuters reported in May that the Georgetown law professor and partner at Hogan Lovells was charging as much as $2,465 an hour to represent a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson in a bankruptcy case. At the time, that was more than the $2,295 an hour former Attorney General Eric Holder was billing.
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"That’s high, but appellate experts like him are in high demand," said Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and Los Angeles-based trial attorney.
Katyal is one of the most accomplished lawyers in the country. He has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court dozens of times, according to his Georgetown bio. He also faced a storm of criticism in late 2020 after defending two large corporations in a child slavery lawsuit that reached the Supreme Court.
"When you hire the former Acting Solicitor General to handle an appeal, it’s a big deal," Rahmani told Fox News Digital.
But the expenditure could amount to a waste of taxpayers' money if Gascón fails in front of the Supreme Court.
Rahmani said Gascón’s chances of prevailing "are low," noting that the courts have already upheld similar sentencing schemes.
"It’s unfortunate that Gascón is spending so much time and money litigating against his own front-line prosecutors and challenging California’s Three Strikes law, which is well-established and supported by the majority of California voters," he said. "Especially as he faces a likely recall."
Gascón’s office did not immediately respond to questions about how much taxpayer money is going toward paying Hogan Lovells or Katyal.
The Democrat Gascón is facing a recall effort and rising crime, as well as a storm of criticism over his handling of high-profile cases involving egregious crimes, including the 26-year-old trans child molester who was incarcerated in a juvenile facility nearly a decade after attacking a 10-year-old girl in a Denny’s bathroom.
In the past two weeks, as the recall effort cleared several roadblocks, Gascón disbanded the unit in his office tasked with notifying crime victims of their assailants’ parole hearings and taken his appeal against a lawsuit that blocked his directive banning prosecutors from charging strikes under California law to the state Supreme Court. In June, he said he had secured an "appropriate" sentence of five to seven months in juvenile probation camp for a wrong-way-driving teen in a stolen car who pleaded guilty to mowing down a mother walking her infant son in a stroller.
Katyal, who argued in appellate court that Gascón should be able to implement his unilateral directives over the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, wrote the opposite in a 2020 op-ed for the New York Times, critics said. Katyal and fellow Georgetown law professor Joshua Geltzer disputed the decision of the Justice Department, under then-Attorney General Bill Bar, to drop criminal charges against former Trump adviser Michael Flynn.
"Fortunately, in our system, a prosecutor’s say-so is not enough to drop a prosecution," they wrote. "It requires the approval of the court. And while judges rarely interfere with such decisions, this is that rare case."
Neither Katyal nor Geltzer responded to requests for comment.
"This is diametrically opposed to his position on this case," Eric Siddall, the vice president of the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys, which initially sued Gascón over the three-strikes policy in December 2020, said of the Flynn op-ed Tuesday.
Eric George, the Ellis George Cipollone O'Brien Annaguey LLP partner representing the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, described Katyal as a "very good lawyer" Tuesday but said last week that he is confident in the ADDA’s case before the state’s Supreme Court.
"Each of the four respected jurists who have considered the matter has validated our client's claims, and we are confident the California Supreme Court will take no action to interfere with the injunction against Mr. Gascón," he said.
In June, the Second Appellate District Court upheld portions of a lower court’s injunction that said Gascón cannot refuse to charge three-strike cases, which can dramatically increase prison sentences for some of the most serious repeat offenders.
Gascón is hoping to have the court’s order overturned, arguing that it is "draconian," creates "a dangerous precedent" and amounts to "taking the charging decision out of a prosecutor’s hands."
"The district attorney overstates his authority," the Second Appellate District ruling reads. "He is an elected official who must comply with the law, not a sovereign with absolute, unreviewable discretion."
The petition to recall cleared a key signatures hurdle on Thursday, the same day Katyal’s firm filed an application for him to appear in the three-strike appeal.
According to the Los Angeles Police Department, the city of Los Angeles has seen its homicide rate rise more than 25% year to date in 2022 compared to 2020. In Gascón’s first full year in office, the City of Los Angeles saw 397 homicides – a 14-year high.